“I hate connecting with myself when I am about to self-medicate” says one of my most diligent and conscientious clients, Evan (not his real name.) Evan is in his late thirties and has been self-medicating most of his adult life by over-indulging in smoking cannabis, playing video games, and watching pornography. “After a long day of work, I look forward to coming home and escaping into my world. I look forward to ordering my favorite junk food, getting behind my computer and just checking out. Now that I know what it’s like to be aware of myself, it has taken away my enjoyment of these thing.”
Becoming aware or conscious of one’s inner and outer world automatically creates change. Sometimes we desperately seek change. Other times, when it comes down to it and we start to see change take place, fear can kick in. I tell Evan, “Let yourself feel the disappointment, the anger or even the rage that comes up for you when you start to become aware of what you are about to do in that moment.”
It’s a dilemma to be conscious at times. You don’t want to be aware. You don’t want to “see” what is really going on, how you are really feeling or the destructive behavior patterns that you are engaging in. It’s normal. When we are beginners on the path, this dichotomy is part of the process of awakening. I am used to holding that place for my clients. I know in that moment they both hate and love me. I am taking away something destructive from them and helping them feel better, healthier and happier. Yet, they have relied on those behaviors for survival most of their life and now I am taking away those mechanisms of self preservation.
It can be very scary and exciting when you first begin to develop awareness and start to see change take place in your life. It is exhilarating to know that you can change the old self, the old life, and let go of all the bad habits and destructive behaviors. But it can also be terrifying to not have the old friends to to rely on regardless of how destructive they have been.In my earlier days when I started out as a young counselor working at a drug and alcohol rehab center, I overly zealous in wanting to help my clients kick their bad habits. I had them join my mindfulness group and encouraged then to develop awareness around their habits. One day one of the more senior counselors whom herself had been an addict approached me and said, “Ellie, I see that you are really fast about having people drop their bad habits, but what are you replacing those habits with? People who have addictions depend and rely on their drug of choice like a child clinging to his/her mother. When you take away their source, what are you replacing that with? You don’t want to set them up for failure now.”
I was struck by her comment to me. It was unsettling to hear what she said for reasons I didn’t know why at that time and I found myself thinking about her comment years past that interaction. Every time I sat in group, I would remember her comment. What are people replacing their bad habits with when they develop awareness? It took me a long time to come up with an answer that finally satisfied me. From time to time, I still think about it but for the most part, I would say, “When you develop awareness, you develop a relationship with your Higher Self. You can call that Higher Self just that, or your more Evolved Self, or your Intuition, God, the Divine or Goddess. It doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is the relationship that you have developed with it.”
The drugs, alcohol, sex and everything else that we cling to, is on some level trying to replicate that relationship or connection with the Self. Even religion tries to replicate that connection but doesn’t necessarily succeed. Developing awareness is a physiological process of creating new neural pathways in the brain which were not there before. It requires time, work and practice to develop these new connections and the more you practice, the more your brainwaves begin to shift. There is a ton of research now on the neurophysiology and neuroplasticity of the brain of those who meditate and develop awareness.
I explain this to Evan, and I watch his body relax more. “Oh OK,” he says. “I see that as I become more aware and don’t need to medicate myself as much, I will develop new ways of feeling that replace the high that I feel when I self-medicate.” I nod my head and tell him that perhaps the new way will be finding a healthy relationship that can create those same feelings of euphoria in him. He looks at me smiling. We both feel hopeful and see the potential of a better future ahead.